“Move along, folks… nothing to see here.”
There is an inherent risk in reuniting legendary bands. There is a long list of pitfalls and tempting clichés that often ruin the experience for the audience and diminish the legacy of the group. More often than not the desire to relive former glory days over take the good sense to let the past speak for itself.
This is especially true for bands that have taken lengthy hiatus’ before taking the stage once again. This does not mean that it can’t be done; bands like Dinosaur Jr. and the Stooges have recently launched reunion tours that lived up to their legend and proved their legacy and influence is well deserved. This is unfortunately not true about the New York Dolls.
The band, which played the Gothic Theatre on Tuesday, not only have their influence as one of the founding bands of puck rock to live up to, they also have the disadvantage of being without enigmatic guitarist Johnny Thunders, who was both the songwriter and emotional leader. Thunders died of drug-related causes in 1991. The only two surviving members — David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain — are the bulk of the reunion, though the late Arthur “Killer” Kane was part of another reunion at the U.K.’s Meltdown Festival in 2004.
Although the Dolls are considered forefathers of a genre that touts an anti-establishment attitude as a major tenant, Dodge sponsored the tour, complete with a new Jeep outside the venue and giant flags lining the street. The feel of the show was one of nostalgia and the crowd was willing to ignore the obvious contradictions. Most of the concertgoers where older, with a sprinkling of young crusty punks with Dead Kennedys patches on the back of their leather jackets. I could not help thinking somewhere Johnny was shooting up in his grave. The crowd never filled out and the capacity was three quarters full at best.
“We look good, yes? No?”
We Are the Fury was the young opening band never quite got its influences off its shirtsleeves, though I enjoyed the David Bowie and Mott the Hoople rip-offs toward the end of their set verses the Heartbreakers sound-alikes at the start. The sound was off all night, which was accentuated by the overly loud synthesizer that never quite found its place in the songs.
Once the Dolls took the stage the vibe of the room was excited and, despite all the surrounding bad decisions, replacement guitar player Steve Conte actually tried to look like Thunders, which seemed inappropriate and even sacrilegious. Despite these issues the crowed embraced the Dolls like it was ’73 at CBGB all over again, including hits like “Pills,” “Babylon” and “Personality Crisis.”
After the initial excitement of hearing and seeing the reformed band, the set seemed to drag on and new songs where lost on the majority of the room. However, everything could be forgiven, even Sylvain’s canned banter with Johansen, stage antics that would make the E-Street Band feel cheesy, and the fact that they started their own chant during the encore.
The show was by no means a great one. The band came off like a cover act of their former selves, but the Dolls (save Thunders) never completely understood their place or influence in the royal lineage of rock. They were never the brightest, the best, or the most aware band. They were simply the most fun, and still are in their special way.